Arts·Can't Do Without

This artist makes 'eye tingling' videos about internet habits, and he couldn't do it without these 5 things

One man's obsolete tech is another man's treasure. Peter Rahul walks us through a few of the things he just can't do without.

We are experiencing the most beautiful technical difficulties...

Glitch artist Peter Rahul is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence. (Tumblr/Peter Rahul)

Sunday on Exhibitionists, do not adjust your set. We'll be featuring glitch art by Markham, Ont. video artist Peter Rahul all through the program — dense and crunchy psychedelic patterns that'll take you back to the days of Blockbuster Video.

The tech in Rahul's studio is just as retro — stuff that the 26-year-old has been scavenging from Craigslist and Value Village and dusty garage sales since he was at OCAD University.

If you can do it well with materials people are looking to unload, then why not?- Peter Rahul

At the time, he was studying painting and drawing, but when one of his teachers — local artist Phillippe Blanchard — introduced him to some of the lo-fi tech he used to create video projections, it was like a lightbulb switched on.

Or maybe "tube TV" would be the better analogy.

Rahul remembers the first time he saw Blanchard's collection of video mixers, etc. "It was like being a kid in a candy store," he says.

Rahul does a lot of collaborations with Toronto musicians, and creates live projections (or "video jazz," as he likes to call it) at shows and events. This photo is from a Lee Paradise show at the city's Handlebar. (Sam Kadosh)

As a painting student, he'd been striving to create pictures that somehow captured what it's like to be constantly plugged into the internet, that neverending cycle that's turned us all into smartphone Sisyphuses — "receiving information, recycling that information and outputting information" all the time.

"I've been really immersed in the internet since I was eight years old. I've always been a tech, computer-type guy. Just that sense, I found, was difficult to capture in just one still frame," he says.

But video? Video was perfect. To Rahul's eyes, the look "tingles your eyeballs," which is what he'd been struggling to do with paint. Plus, the form itself was like a metaphor for what he was trying to express in the first place.

What you're seeing for the most part in this post — and the same goes for the videos that'll be on Exhibitionists this weekend — are feedback loops.

Think of when you stick a microphone up to a speaker. That creates audio feedback, a sound that'll "murder your ears," as Rahul puts it. Video feedback, he explains, "actually turns into something that's super pleasing to the eyes."

"The machine tries to create its own inner logic of receiving information and recycling it and outputting it," he explains — and that, he says, is how he thinks of the way we use the internet.

For example, maybe you'll read this article and then recycle it by (hint, hint) sharing it on Facebook.

A few years on, and Rahul hasn't stopped collecting gear — or making art, either. He frequently collaborates with musicians, creating live video projections for the likes of Yukon Blonde and Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning, and he's developing a new VHS mixtape of Toronto video art for release in 2017.

As he's learned, one man's obsolete tech is another man's treasure. Here, he walks us through a few of the things he just can't do without.


Panasonic WJ-AVE5

We had no idea what that was either, so FYI, it's a video mixer.

"Most of what you do in iMovie, you'd be able to do with one of these," Rahul explains. So if this were the '80s or '90s and you wanted to 'zazz up your home videos — maybe edit a few clips together, add a nice fade or a star wipe — you'd need one of these.

"That Panasonic mixer is the first mixer I ever got," says Rahul. Buying it off a guy in Etobicoke, who'd left it gathering dust in the basement, Rahul used the thing to teach himself the tricks that have built his current art practice.

"I pretty much saved my lunch money to get it," he laughs. Still, compared to other tech, it was an OSAP-friendly price. The same goes for most of the gear Rahul uses. "I can't afford a DSLR or an HD camera, but I can afford a $10 camera at Value Village," he says. "You shouldn't be held to the standards that are pushed by the consumer electronic market. I feel like if you can do it well with materials people are looking to unload, then why not?"


Video projector

"The projector kind of gave me a voice in a lot of ways, says Rahul. "Besides inviting someone in to my studio/house and getting them to see what I was working on, it's hard to really share it. Projection gave me the voice I needed. I didn't need to say a single thing — all I needed to say was 'look' and point, and people were blown away."


Fresh air

"When I was in school, I was very much about the digital age and being on social media and constantly sharing stuff," says Rahul. "I had this imbalance in my life and I needed to fix it real quick, and the way that I did that was I went on long camping trips. I still do to this day. I try to get outdoors every day as much as possible — to go for a walk, to walk my dog, just to get away from it all."

"I feel like the hustle and bustle of the city — as well as the hustle and bustle of the internet — can really wear you down over time and we all need to reboot and refresh whenever we can."


Old televisions

The boxy, tube TVs that everyone threw out as soon as HD arrived — "CRT TVs," that is — are Rahul's favourites, especially the portable models you might have brought on a summer road trip back in the day.

Installation view of New Tab by Peter Rahul. (Tumblr/Peter Rahul (Photo credit: Shane Parent))

"I grew up with my face glued to the TV. They always tell you, 'Don't sit too close to the TV.' I never listened," he jokes. Old TVs "give off this fuzzy, warm glow that you can bask in for hours."

"It's a unique property of the hardware of the time and I miss it, to be honest. I find myself CRT's all the time...it's kind of my preferred format."


VHS collection

Though he's constantly "pruning" his stash of thrift-store VHS for fear of turning into a full-blown hoarder, Rahul says he usually has about 100 tapes on hand — everything from weird home movies to retro CanCon relics.

"The VHS collection provides a lot of inspiration for me," he explains. The graphical glitches or unusual colour shifts you might find on a dusty cassette can't be reproduced through digital effects, he says — as much as some artists might try to recreate them. "There's a sense of randomness to it all, and they're beautiful in that respect."

"I'm pretty obsessed with old video hardware and the relics of standard definition," he says. "There's no real contemporary equivalent." We don't collect movies anymore. "Instead, it's a file on a hard drive."


See more from Peter Rahul on his website and on the new episode of Exhibitionists. Watch online or Sunday at 4:30 (5 p.m. NT) on CBC Television.

Want to see your creations on CBC Arts? Just send us an e-mail! You could be an Exhibitionist in Residence this season.

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